Dizzee Rascal - Sirens
This one's dedicated to.... the Countryside Alliance
THE BEAST FROM THE EAST
It’s been another lazy old summer for me, right enough. The
All started in heartening style with what’s now become an annual visit to Novi Sad, spent as always in the excellent company of George and Sandra Almosthole and the rest of the crew centred around the mighty TONA. This year I deliberately chose to go down in September for a number of reasons – I wanted to see Novi Sad without the madness of Exit and the swarms of British either chewing their own faces off on cheap drugs or attempting to find cheap drugs, in addition to which I planned to avoid the crowded beaches and inflated prices once I got to the coast, as well as the unbearable July heat. On the first point the Exit-free Novi Sad was refreshingly calm by comparison, though still not entirely sedate despite Princess Almosthole’s newfound sobriety, whilst as far as the weather went for the first few days things were no better than on my previous visits and my Northern European constitution suffered badly as a result. The obvious highlight was the rehearsal/private gig performed by Tona in a room approximately 4 metres square, which sounded so ferocious that the normally urbane and placid Siniša announced afterwards “I feel like going out and fighting someone”. Thankfully we didn’t quite go that far, but we did head out for a rather rambunctious evening, joining up with Boris and Filip later, both of whom were on raging form. Let it be stated for the record that the diminutive Englishman was not to be defeated by the macho Serbs.
On the subject of diminutives and drinking, I detected a note of derision on the part of the Serbs for the rather less macho Czechs, including the use of diminutives in their language. When I’ve attempted to speak Serbian I’ve been exhorted to “say it like a man!”, and have learned that instead of converting the word “pivo” for beer to the admittedly twee “pivečko” as the Czechs sometimes do, the Serbs go in the opposite direction and inflate it into a butch “pivčuga” (or something). Yeah, yeah, all well and good my testosterone-fuelled Serbian friends, but can you actually drink it? Can you match your allegedly wimpish Czech cousins beer for beer? In fact if I have one reservation about
Provocative, moi? Hard as nails, us English.
Next up, after a satisfyingly inebriated afternoon at Filip’s place (now that’s a Serb who CAN drink), was a very cheap and comfortable night train, couchette included, to Podgorica, on which I managed both to sleep like a baby and catch the incredible views of the Black Mountains the next morning, and from there to the superb town of Kotor, which is like a smaller, less tourist-infested Dubrovnik, and where I was able to enjoy an enormous seafood feast for very reasonable prices. After that was Ulcinj, which was little more than a stopping point for the next leg of the journey down to Tirana, and which, looking back, was probably the nadir of the trip. There was little to see here, but the main problem was that at this point I was travelling alone and it didn’t seem an easy place to meet people. Added to this was a rather uncomfortable part of an evening spent in a bar watching the football – I’d resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to find anywhere showing the England-Croatia game, so settled for Serbia-France instead. Of course this meant that I found myself surrounded by boisterous, nationalistic Serbs (in an Albanian-dominated town), some wearing “Kosovo is Serbia” T-shirts, and the fact that they were all drinking coffee (they can’t handle their beer, those Serbs) rather than anything stronger did nothing to detract from the threatening atmosphere. I left at half time and went to another place (I confess it was yet another fucking “Irish” pub, but it was the only place in town I could find serving draught beer) run by Albanians, who were a great deal less intimidating. My spirits were also lifted a little when I learned that
With the majority of the population of Ulcinj being Albanian, my impressions of
Tirana itself was immediately fairly overwhelming, not exactly pretty but definitely lively to the point of chaotic, according to my companions more like a South American city than a Southern European one. Since neither of them had much time to hang around we headed immediately for the Sky Tower – some snobs might call it a cheesy tourist experience but it’s a thoroughly worthwhile one, in a slowly revolving bar at the top of a skyscraper, a sort of horizontal version of the London Eye with the added bonus of beer on tap (even if it is pissy Tuborg). The beer may cost twice the price of a beer at ground level, but given the fact that admission’s free, it’s a bargain. After that I headed for the hostel, which contrary to the information on the flier was far from easy to find. This became a bit of a theme in
When I told people I was going to
As well as Tirana we managed to take in Berat, an extremely picturesque, Unesco-protected town in the mountains, a far cry from the typical stereotype of Albania, and Saranda, probably Albania’s biggest coastal resort, almost within swimming distance of Corfu – in total three wildly different locations. However, whilst some of the stereotypes are based on pure prejudice, others are clearly true.
After surviving a minor earth tremor on my last night in Saranda, waking up to find the bed shaking quite dramatically, all of this was brought home to me rather brutally on the final leg of my journey in Corfu, where the difference in the standard of the beaches and towns was immediately striking, and although I’d enjoyed Albania immensely this felt like a holiday from a holiday. I ended up wishing I’d left myself more time to enjoy the island’s shamefully obvious and passé creature comforts, but I had to catch my similarly unadventurous and bourgeois flight back to
So now back to reality. And possibly to the doctor’s, if that dose of the shits I picked up down in the Balkans doesn’t clear up soon.
*Profuse thanks to Agnieszka, who may have saved me from a severely traumatic experience.